FORT HOOD, Texas – President Barack Obama tried to console a grieving military Tuesday, telling the families of those killed in last week’s shooting rampage that “your loved ones endure through the life of our nation.”
“We come together filled with sorrow for the 13 Americans that we have lost; with gratitude for the lives that they led; and with a determination to honor them through the work we carry on,” Obama said.
As he remembered the dead, offering personal details about each one, Obama also praised the modern military and reminded service members that their mission remained difficult and unfinished.
The speech left some of the thousands of military personnel and civilians in attendance in tears.
Before the ceremony, survivors of the shootings – some with arms in slings, some on crutches – made their way down a set of steps to seats close to the stage. They were followed by families of the dead.
Many members of the audience were military and wore fatigues. Some were civilians from nearby Killeen. Children played on the grass as the adults listened to the president, who said the tragedy was all the more painful because the shooting had occurred not overseas but at home.
“This is a time of war,” Obama said. “And yet these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here, on American soil, in the heart of this great American community. It is this fact that makes the tragedy … even more incomprehensible.”
Obama directed his remarks to the troops, the nation and the families of the 12 military personnel and one civilian shot down Thursday at the Soldier Readiness Center.
“We knew these men and women as soldiers and caregivers. You knew them as mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; sisters and brothers,” he said. “… Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched. Their life’s work is our security and the freedom that we too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that is their legacy.”
The nation’s history, Obama said, is “filled with heroes,” but this generation has distinguished itself as well. “We need not look to the past for greatness,” he said, “because it is before our very eyes.”
Obama also called for firm but fair justice for the military psychiatrist who allegedly turned a gun on his fellow soldiers. Without explicitly noting the Muslim faith of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, Obama called for tolerance as he denounced those who invoke faith to justify violence.
The president praised those who not only aided the shooting victims but also Hasan, who was wounded in a shootout and remains hospitalized.
“We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely as we will see that he pays for his crimes,” Obama said.
The alleged gunman has been described as a devout Muslim who was despondent over his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan.